US Think Tank Founder: Most Americans Can Accept Kiev's Defeat, No Longer Trust Biden's Strategy
05:12 GMT 04.06.2022 (Updated: 13:55 GMT 06.08.2022)
The majority of American respondents are resigned to Ukraine losing the conflict with Russia, and 16 percent of those polled would like to see Vladimir Putin as their president. The Democracy Institute's founding director, Patrick Basham, explains what's going on.
Sputnik: The Democracy Institute's recent poll has found that only 36 percent of American respondents support Biden’s Ukraine policy and 53 percent disapprove. Furthermore, 45 percent would be okay if America allowed Ukraine to lose (against 40 percent who feel it wouldn't be okay). What's behind these numbers? Why is Biden's administration failing to command support from the US population for its military adventure in Ukraine?
Patrick Basham: American public opinion continues to evolve around the Ukraine crisis. The reduction in support for Biden’s Ukraine policy reflects both the events unfolding on the ground in Ukraine and Russia, as well as events in America.
President Biden and his surrogates predicted that American economic pressure upon Russia would end the conflict quickly and that the intentional crushing of the Russian economy would lead to popular discontent among the Russian people, which would result in President Putin’s removal from office by his own people. As none of the Biden administration’s economic, military, or political predictions have come true – in most cases, the opposite has occurred – the American people no longer have much faith in their government’s pronouncements and promises about the crisis.
This loss of faith is occurring quite rapidly because most Americans already entertained negative views about Biden, including his foreign policy, before the Ukraine conflict began. Most Americans remain deeply upset about how America withdrew from Afghanistan. The American government’s failure to influence events in Ukraine confirms a growing view among these voters that their political leadership is increasingly impotent when it comes to international relations.
A plurality of Americans can accept Ukraine losing the conflict with Russia because they do not consider the conflict to be of utmost importance to them. Americans are preoccupied with economic and social problems at home, such as inflation, supply chain disruptions, crime, and illegal immigration. These problems are affecting them every day, and in the most tangible ways. The Ukraine conflict is not. So, Americans continue to oppose Russian actions in Ukraine, but they do not see those actions as necessarily threatening the American people, themselves.
The Biden administration has been unable to maintain support for economic or military action because its principal spokesmen – Biden, vice-president [Kamala] Harris, secretary of state [Antony] Blinken, and national security adviser Jake Sullivan – have been unable either to craft or deliver a compelling message that can become the central, driving narrative of this policy debate. For the first two months of the conflict, American public opinion was led by the mainstream media, which did a far more effective job than the Biden administration of rhetorically shepherding Americans into thinking what the administration wanted them to think.
In recent weeks, however, many mainstream media outlets have begun to publish accounts of the situation on the ground in Ukraine that do not reflect the White House’s public line on the conflict. These newer media accounts better reflect the Ukrainian military’s rapidly worsening position vis-à-vis the Russian military.
The American media now realises that it must report the conflict more accurately otherwise it risks the conflict ending suddenly in Russia’s favour, which would prompt viewers and readers to ask: “How did Ukraine lose? All along, you've been telling us that Ukraine was winning!” The mainstream media’s newly nuanced reporting, in line with more accurate reports from independent journalists since the conflict began, makes it that much harder for the Biden administration to present its message effectively and, subsequently, for its message to gain sufficient traction to resonate with most Americans.
Sputnik: Half of Americans disapprove of the $40Bln military aid package for Ukraine and only 5 percent see Ukraine as a priority for the US. Is the Biden administration aware that its Ukraine policy is unpopular among Americans? Why is the White House proceeding with supplying Kiev with new heavy weapons, including HIMARS? Do Biden's Democrats have no fear of losing the mid-terms?
Patrick Basham: The Biden administration is aware that its Ukraine policy has lost considerable support since the conflict began. However, this administration has no intention of changing course to reflect public opinion better. In fact, the administration's approach is to double-down on its failing policy in Ukraine.
There are two reasons this should not be a surprise: first, the Biden administration never acknowledges or admits that it has made a mistake, whether the issue is military, economic, social, or cultural. When one considers how last year’s disastrous American exit from Afghanistan was brushed aside by the Biden administration, it is unsurprising that the failed Ukraine policy is not a catalyst for a course correction.
On those occasions when it is impossible for the administration to ignore a failure, it tries to characterise the failure as a “problem,” which is blamed on someone or something else. Currently, the administration prefers to blame America’s litany of problems on President Putin, former President Donald Trump, Trump’s supporters, and American corporations.
Second, the Biden administration is filled with experts who hold elitist views about policy-making. They believe that only the best-educated and allegedly the most knowledgeable people should be devising and executing policy. This way of thinking is especially apparent in foreign policymaking, as it maintains that foreign policy is too complex, too difficult, and too dangerous for the average American either to understand or to be able to influence.
The Biden administration continues to throw so much taxpayer money at the Ukraine conflict
because it continues to hope that eventually this policy will be the silver bullet that rescues the Democrats from defeat in the mid-term election.
To date, there is little evidence either that the policy is working or that there is any political advantage to the Democrats from serving as the Ukrainian government’s principal financial and military patron. Yet, so long as the Democrats’ electoral prospects remain bleak, due in large measure to America’s economic trauma, the administration will cling to its belief that Ukraine can, somehow, save the [election] day for the Democrats.
Sputnik: Who are those 16 percent polled who would like to see Putin in the White House as their president? What parties or ethnic/social groups do they belong to?
Patrick Basham: When asked to choose a foreign leader to become their own president, one in six American voters opted for Putin. Although support for Putin is found in varying degrees across the political spectrum, it skews strongly to certain demographic groups with particular political preferences.
Some of his support, both on the Left and on the Right, comes from voters who seek a strong leader with a firm sense of the direction he or she wishes to take their country and the ability to make tough decisions without regard for elite opinion. Those Americans with such views think Putin exhibits some or all of those qualities.
More specifically, Putin is especially popular among those with strongly nationalist views, who think the American president should put Americans before citizens of other nations. A number of conservative-minded, Republican, working class, and Trump supporters are drawn to Putin’s patriotic and populist sentiments on various issues and his support for traditional values in the areas of family, gender, and education. These same voters have anti-globalist views, so they approve of Putin standing up to the United Nations, the World Trade Organization, the EU, the World Economic Forum, and so on.
Sputnik: According to the Democracy Institute's poll, Russia is seen as only the fourth-biggest international threat (14 percent), behind China (45 percent), Iran (20 percent) and North Korea (17 percent). Could we expect a change of heart within the US foreign policy establishment, given that former secretary of state Henry Kissinger has already started to talk about the need for a peaceful settlement with Russia and negotiations between Kiev and Moscow?
Patrick Basham: For a host of reasons, the US foreign policy establishment will continue to project Russia as the greatest threat to America. That said, it is also true that America’s foreign policy elites do not wish to be embarrassed for supporting the losing side in the Ukraine-Russia conflict, especially as they have said not only that Ukraine should, but could or would win.
So, Kissinger’s pro-diplomacy speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos was a signal to foreign policy establishments throughout the West that it was time to accept the inevitable in Ukraine - that is, a Russian military victory. As an arch-realist when it comes to foreign policy, Kissinger seeks to lead his American successors down the path of a negotiated settlement that brings the Ukraine conflict to a peaceful conclusion thereby minimising further loss of Ukrainian lives.
At this point in the conflict, Kissinger is in much the same place as most American voters. He and they did not want the conflict to begin in the first place, and neither he nor they wanted it to end the way it apparently will. But both Kissinger and American voters are seeking to get out of the political, economic, and military hole that America’s foreign policy establishment has dug for itself in Ukraine. Given the situation, I believe Kissinger is advising his peers that, clearly, it is now time to stop digging.